Meeting God in Our Neighborhood

The Going Local Team – Row1: Kathy Ferdinand, Amy Szurly; Row2: Cathie Ruppi, Barbara Djimopoulos; Row3: Paul Shackford


St. Andrew’s continued on its journey this year through a program offered by our own Diocese of Newark, with guidance from The Missional Network, the company that developed this program. The journey is titled, “Going Local,” and is a journey of discovery. It seems that we only just started on our journey, but we have been on this journey for 3 years!

The purpose of this journey is not to find programs, fundraisers, or community projects, nor is it to find new members for St. Andrew’s. We are taking the pulse of our community, learning about their aspirations, present needs and situations, and dreams for the future. We are listening, discerning and reflecting on what we hear through multiple conversations. We are discovering where God is working, not just in our church community, but also in the larger community outside the doors of our church. We know that God is working here in our community of St. Andrew’s.  Hidden in our stories and experiences are clues as to how the Spirit is shaping us, not only for mission within our church community, but also in the places where we each live, work and play.

We embarked on our journey in 2014 by meeting with the other churches in the Diocese who were starting on the same journey into their own neighborhoods, and with leaders of the Diocese. During these three years we have met somewhat regularly with ourselves, and at least twice a year with the Diocese and other churches. Each meeting begins with Dwelling in the Word of the same passage, Luke 10:1-12.

The first thing we needed to do was to learn to listen to those in our own congregation. We did this by interviewing many of our fellow parishioners. Through these interviews, our fellow parishioners told us much more about themselves. When we took the time to sit down together and talk, and when we listened to what you were saying, we learned:

  •     Practically everyone was willing and eager to talk about God and their relationship with Jesus.
  •     People wanted to share times where God was with them and their families.
  •     Lives have been changed through their relationship with Christ.
  •     The team were all surprised by the willingness of the congregation to open up and share.
  •     Their openness encouraged each of us to open up and share our stories, too.

While we were listening to the people of the congregation, we also walked our neighborhood and talked about what we observed, and how we had missed some of those things in the past. These walks were especially eye-opening when we were joined by people who don’t know this area, like the Bishop. Through their eyes, we saw things we hadn’t seen before, and things that we took for granted.

As we became more comfortable with listening, observing and talking about God, we knew it was time to move out of our comfort zone. It was time to test out our new listening skills; we were ready to find our first “experiment”.

We began 2016 by defining our statement, which would help us define our first experiment. As is the custom of Going Local, we did not work through this alone. We had plenty of help from the other Going Local teams in the Diocese, and are grateful for their input.

We decided that our statement is, “We will invite members of the community to a monthly breakfast to engage in conversation.”   And so our first experiment came to life.

The Mayor of Harrington Park and the Police Chief of Harrington Park both agreed to have breakfast with us at St. Andrew’s. We later met with the director of the Harrington Park Public Library and the Superintendent of the Harrington Park Public School at their offices. We also met with the Director of the Valley Program. For each conversation, we listened to our guest. And after each meeting, we reflected on what we learned. Each gathering was a different experience from any of the other gatherings. We kept at this and we found ourselves relating on a deeper and more personal level. The more they shared about themselves, the more we shared about ourselves; and the more we shared about ourselves, the more they shared about themselves. Over a period of time, we learned that each person we talked with did not simply go to work each day, but they were called to do this work.

We also held meetings with the congregation in an effort to keep everyone up to date on our progress and to get feedback. As is our custom, we began these congregational meetings by Dwelling in the Word and were encouraged by the amount of participation and the discussions that took place. In fact, we were so encouraged that we used Dwelling in the Word at some of our 10:15 services.

As we journeyed through these experiments, our confidence continued to grow.

Our next experiment happened pretty much by accident. Several members of the congregation wanted to participate in Harrington Park Town Day at Highland Field in Harrington Park. As they were discussing ways to draw people into our booth for Town Day, the Town Day committee decided to have a Dream Board available for people to write down their hopes and dreams. We Going Local people saw that this was a perfect fit for our next experiment , so we jumped on it.

We worked with the Town Day committee and set up two small Dream Boards first in the church library after services  for several weeks, and then set up a much larger Dream Board at Town Day. We also had the Dream Board available during our annual Fish-n-Chips dinner. As of this writing, we have collected about 30 feet of dreams!

The Going Local team thanks John King very much for the design and construction of this Dream Board. ln October, the Going Local team met with the congregation after service one Sunday to read through all of the dreams – those from St. Andrew’s and those from Town Day and Fish-n-Chips. We reflected on the similarities of the dreams from all of the different locations. We reflected on the fact that we collected dreams from complete strangers at Harrington Park Town Day: what does that mean, that so many people would want to share their dreams with others. What does that say about these people? What does that say about our neighborhood and our community? The feedback and input from that meeting has benefited the team immensely

The Going Local team is reading and re-reading the dreams that we’ve collected. And we continue to search for commonalities among them. We’re looking at the dreams on the St. Andrew’s board separately from the dreams on the Town Day Dream Board, and we’re also looking at ALL the dreams together. What should our next steps be with these dreams? We again find ourselves asking each other, “Now what?” As of this writing, we have already met with the town leaders again (in January 2017), and have invited them to invite others to join us as we work towards widening our circle. And we are looking for other experiments to test out. During 2017, we will hold meetings with the congregation following the 10:15 service on the fourth Sunday of each month. Please join us!

Amy Szurly for the Going Local Team